WHERE ALEXANDER HAMILTON SPENT HIS LAST YEARS
After nineteen years of moving from house to house and from city to city, Alexander Hamilton made up his mind to have a home of his own. In 1780 he had taken Elizabeth Schuyler from a mansion in Albany that was, in its day, almost a palace; and in 1799 he felt that the time had come to give her a home of corresponding comfort.
At this time he was commander-in-chief of the army of the United States, a service that was made notable, among other things, by his suggestion and preparation of plans for the West Point Military Academy.
The chosen site for the house, nine miles from Bowling Green, was bounded by the present St. Nicholas and Tenth Avenues and 141st and 145th streets. The coach from New York to Albany afforded regular transportation to the spot, though, of course, Hamilton had his own equipage. When he planned the house he thought his income of $12,000 would be ample to care for the property. Accordingly he felt justified in offering £800 for sixteen acres, one-half of which was to be paid in cash, the balance within a year.
The architect chosen was John McComb, the designer of New York’s old City Hall. Hamilton and his father-in-law, General Schuyler, had a hand in the development of the plans. In a letter to Hamilton, written August 25, 1800, General Schuyler said:
” If the house is boarded on the outside, and the clap-boards put on, and filled on the inside with brick, I am persuaded no water will pass to the brick. If the clap-boards are well painted, and filling in with brick will be little if any more expensive than lath and plaister, the former will prevent the nuisance occasioned by rats and mice, to which you will be eternally exposed if lath and plaister is made use of instead of brick.”
The mason’s specifications, quoted by Allan MacLane Hamilton, were as follows :
” Proposal for finishing General Hamilton’s Country HouseViz.
To build two Stacks of Chimneys to contain eight fire-places, exclusive of those in Cellar Story.
To fill in with brick all the outside walls of the 1st and 2nd stories, also all the interior walls that Separate the two Octagon Roomsand the two rooms over them from the Hall and other Rooms in both Stories.
To lath and plaster the side walls of 1st and 2nd stories with two coats & set in white.
To plaster the interior walls which separate the Octagon Room in both Stories, to be finished white, or as General Hamilton may chose.
To lath and plaster all the other partitions in both stories.
To lath and plaster the Ceiling of the Cellar Story throughout.
To plaster the Sidewalls of Kitchen, Drawing Room, Hall & passage, & to point & whitewash the Stone and brick walls of the other part of Cellar Story. To Point outside walls of Cellar Story and to fill in under the Sills.
To lay both Kitchen hearths with brick, placed edge ways. .
To put a Strong Iron back in the Kitchen fire-place, five feet long by 2 1/2 9″ high.
To Put another Iron back in the Drawing Room 3’6″ by 2’9″.
To place two Iron Cranes in the Kitchen fire Place& an Iron door for the oven mouth.
The Rooms, Hall and Passage of the first Story to have neat Stucco CornicesThose of Octagon Rooms of Best Kind (but not inriched).
To put up the two setts of Italian Marble in the Octagon Room, such as General Hamilton may chooseand six setts of Stone Chimney pieces for the other Rooms.
The Four fireplaces in the two Octagon rooms & the two rooms over them, to have Iron Backs and jambs, and four fire places to have backs only.
To lay the foundations for eight piers for the Piazza.
Mr. McComb to find at his own expense all the Material requisite for the afore described work and execute it in a good & workmenlike manner for one thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy five Dollars.
General Hamilton to have all the Materials carted and to have all the Carpenter work done at his expense ___
General Hamilton is to find the workmen their board or to allow shillings per day for each days work in thereof. ”
One of the workmen on the house was paid $424.50 for three and one-half years’ work. Another laborer was given $152.18 for sixteen months and twenty-seven days, or ninepence per day. The cost of the house, complete, was £1,550.
The country place was a joy, both indoors and out. The garden was especially attractive to Hamilton. In a letter written from The Grange to a friend in South Carolina, he said :
” A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. The melons in your country are very fine. Will you have the goodness to send me some seed, both of the water and musk melons?”
Guests were numerous. Gouverneur Morris and General Schuyler were often at The Grange. Chancellor Kent, after a visit paid in April, 1804, wrote to his wife :
” I went with General Hamilton on Saturday, the 21st, and stayed till Sunday evening. There was a furious and dreadful storm on Saturday night. It blew almost a hurricane. His house stands high, and was much exposed, and I am certain that in the second story, where I slept, it rocked like a cradle. He never appeared before so friendly and amiable. I was alone, and he treated me with a minute attention that I did not suppose he knew how to bestow. His manners were also very delicate and chaste. His daughter, who is nineteen years old, has a very uncommon simplicity and modesty of deportment, and he appeared in his domestic state the plain, modest, and affectionate father and husband.”
The ideal life at The Grange continued only until July 13, 1804. That morning Hamilton set out as if for the office in the city as usual, without informing Mrs. Hamilton of the impending duel with Aaron Burr.
At noon the wife was at the side of her husband, who died next day.
After his death there were put in her hands two letters. In these he told of his purpose to permit his antagonist to shoot him.:
” The scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another. This much increases my hazards, and redoubles my pangs for you. . . .
” If it had been possible for me to have avoided the interview, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone a decisive motive. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem.”
Mrs. Hamilton remained at The Grange as long as possible, directing the men in the care of the estate and caring for her children. But she could not afford to keep a carriage, and the, inaccessibleness of the estate and the drain it made on her limited purse soon made it necessary for her to rent a house in the city.
Though friends proposed the raising of a fund that would care for Mrs. Hamilton and the children, it does not seem that there was any relief until 1816, when Congress gave to Mrs. Hamilton back pay amounting to ten thousand dollars.
After The Grange was sold to pay debts, its career was checkered. Some years ago it was moved to the east side of Convent Avenue, and it then became the schoolhouse of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.